Dan Barber has taken "Farm to Table" to the highest possible level of culinary achievement. Maybe your local restaurant sources eggs and bacon from local farmers, but Chef Barber is working with Botanists at Cornell University to breed blithe resistant cucumbers and giving lectures on "cultivating flavor." If a strong positive argument exists for GMO experimentation, this is it. This is not Monsanto. This is sustainable engineering. And everyone is noticing, from the TED conference to the Michelin Guide and The James Beard Foundation, Harvard, and all the way to the President where Dan serves on the Council for Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.
The dining room is stuffy and small. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't much a fan of the atmosphere. I expected a rustic, “earthy garden” agenda. I wanted old wooden tables and gardening tools and plants growing out of the walls, a casually dressed staff, and a light atmosphere. But this is all white tablecloth, fancy pants, and very formal. Honestly, it’s a bit stagnant. A friend later suggested that the whole point might be to show that hard work and farming is right on par with any other white-tablecloth restaurant out there. A good thought, but I wonder if it has more to do with accolades.
But oh my, the food. I can forgive almost any other issues (we found Blue Hill to be slightly lacking in the service department) for food like this. I start with the Once in a Lifetime Blue Hill & Stillwater Artisanal Ale, a gargantuan beast of a beer. It's excellent and has a strongly refined taste for a 7.4% craft. We choose the Farmers Feast tasting menu. A surprisingly fresh radish with white chocolate arrives to start the meal, followed by some excellently cured meats. Yellowtail flounder with corn and fava beans, an expertly crafted salad with fresh fruit and greens, a cast iron farm fresh egg with mixed greens and potatoes, a succulent fatty pork dish, a blueberry dish with honey and milk, deconstructed chocolate covered cherries, fresh apricot, the dishes keep coming and coming and you wonder if it's ever going to stop. This is the poster child for farm fresh. How do simple dishes have such refined and bold flavors? Every step of the process is controlled by the Chef, literally from the ground up.
Anyone interested in farming, sustainable food culture, biology, or anyone that enjoys the works of a dedicated and brilliant master, Blue Hill NY is a must. Book in advance and be prepared to spend some money, but go, as soon as you can. His larger and more experimental restaurant and farm called Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown is on the list for my next trip to New York. From everything I can tell, that's where he does the real work.